What is meningitis- Types, Symptoms, and Risk factors

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Inflammation in the meninges of brain tissues is called meningitis. The meninges are made of three membranes—dura mater, arachnoid mater and pia mater.

The meninges line the vertical canal and the skull that encloses the brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis is the inflammation of the membrane, whereas encephalitis causes inflammation of the brain.

When infected with pathogens, the membranes swell and press against the spinal cord and brain. This can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. The symptoms of meningitis can flare up and get worse in no time.

Meningitis vaccine

Meningitis is a life-threatening infection, often caused by viruses and bacteria. Before the invention of antibiotics, meningitis was a fatal infection. According to NCBI, the mortality of meningitis is about 25%, even after improved medical facilities.  

In some cases, meningitis improves with simple treatment, but in other cases, it can be life-threatening and requires hospitalisation. The causes of meningitis can differ, and it can occur due to infectious and non-infectious processes.

Early diagnosis can prevent severe complications. The CDC proposes that vaccination is the most effective way to prevent meningitis.

Types of meningitis

There are types of meningitis, and it is categorised depending on the organism that causes the infection.

Viral meningitis

Viruses cause viral meningitis. The common viral species that cause meningitis are non-polio enterovirus species like echovirus and group b coxsackievirus, Parechovirus.

Herpes virus like Herpes simplex virus, Epstein Barr virus, and Varicella-zoster virus, measles, arbovirus like West Nile, La Crosse, Powassan, Jamestown Canyon and influenza also causes meningitis.

Viral meningitis does not cause significant complications, and people with good immune systems get better without any treatment. There are many vaccines available to prevent viral meningitis.

Viral meningitis is less severe when compared to bacterial meningitis, and it is the most common type of meningitis. Most infants and people with weakened immune systems get severely affected by viral meningitis.

The common symptoms of viral meningitis are fever, headache, nausea, lack of appetite, vomiting, stiff neck, photophobia and lethargy.  

Viral meningitis usually does not require treatment, and people get better within 7–10 days. If the condition does not improve, immediate treatment will be required as it can be life-threatening.

Bacterial meningitis

Bacterial meningitis requires immediate medical treatment, and they cause severe complications. Compared to viral, bacterial meningitis can cause significant complications like paralysis, brain damage and stroke. It can be fatal in some cases.

There are various reasons for a person to get infected with bacterial meningitis. A head injury or a weakened immune system can increase the risk of bacterial meningitis.

People between the age of 16–21 and infants below one year get affected the most by bacterial meningitis. People with liver and spleen medical conditions are also prone to bacterial meningitis.

The common symptoms of bacterial meningitis are high fever, headache, stiff neck with difficulty in motion, sleepy even during the day, irritability, lack of appetite, seizures and photophobia.

The incubation period for bacterial meningitis is 1–10 days. However, the symptoms can show within four days of infection. The symptoms can set in immediately and requires immediate medical attention. Bacterial meningitis can be contagious until the antibiotics are administered to the patient.

Fungal meningitis

Fungal meningitis occurs when the fungus affects the body and spreads to the brain and spinal cord. Some of the fungal species that cause meningitis are Cryptococcus, Coccidioides, Histoplasma, Candida and Blastomyces.

These fungal species, when breathed in, can cause infection. They initially affect the lungs when breathed in and then spread to brain cells from the lungs. Fungal meningitis is not contagious.

Fungal meningitis can affect anyone, and people with a weakened immune system are prone to the infection. People who are administered with steroids, anti-TNF and organ transplant medication have an increased risk of fungal infection.

The common symptoms of fungal meningitis include headache, fever, vomiting, nausea and photophobia.

Parasitic meningitis

Parasitic meningitis is not common as bacterial and viral meningitis. The parasite that enters the body can affect the brain and spinal cord, which leads to parasitic meningitis.

Meningitis caused by parasites is called eosinophilic meningitis. The parasites that cause meningitis are Gnathostoma spinigerum, Baylisascaris procyonis and Angiostrongylus cantonensis.

These parasites do not directly infect humans, they infect animals, and when humans eat contaminated meat or animals affected with these parasites, it gets transferred to humans. Parasitic meningitis is not contagious.

The common symptoms of parasitic meningitis include nausea, severe headache, stiff neck, photophobia and mental confusion.

Non-infectious meningitis

Non-infectious meningitis is caused due to body’s immune malfunction. The immune system attacks its own cells and causes inflammation of the membranes. Some autoimmune disorders that can cause meningitis are rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Sometimes, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and specific antibiotics can cause non-infectious meningitis. Non-infectious meningitis also occurs when the cyst in the brain ruptures and the fluid leaks to the subarachnoid space.

The symptoms of non-infectious meningitis are the same as viral and bacterial meningitis, and people affected with non-infectious meningitis recover within two weeks.

Chronic meningitis

Chronic meningitis occurs due to inflammation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The chronic condition occurs when the inflammation persists for a month.  

The common cause of meningitis includes autoimmune, infectious and neoplastic. Chronic meningitis requires immediate diagnosis and treatment to avoid mortality.

The common symptoms of meningitis include nausea, headache, vomiting, focal neurological deficits and intracranial pressure.


The symptoms of meningitis in the early stages present as influenza. Sometimes the symptoms may develop within a few hours, and in other cases, it might take days. However, the symptoms differ from one person to another, and the possible symptoms are discussed below.

Sudden high fever

There might be a sudden increase in temperature.

Stiff neck

Meningitis causes the membranes to swell, leading to a stiff neck.

Severe headache that seems different from normal

The common symptom of meningitis is severe headache. When the nerve swells, it triggers certain reactions, which can lead to severe headaches.

Headache with nausea or vomiting

Headache with nausea is a common symptom of meningitis.

Confusion or difficulty concentrating.

Swelling, inflammation and pain cause confusion, affecting a person’s behaviour. This causes concentration and focusing issues.


Meningitis is commonly associated with seizures. According to NCBI, it stated that about 20% of people affected with bacterial meningitis experience seizures.

Sleepiness or difficulty waking

Most people have reported sleepiness and sudden movement after being at rest. This might be caused due to inflammation in the brain. A person affected with meningitis may feel drowsy most of the time.

Sensitivity to light

Being sensitive to light is an early symptom of meningitis.

No appetite or thirst

 Loss of appetite can be caused due to fever and inflammation of the meninges. Nausea and vomiting are also common in people infected with meningitis. When there is inflammation of the meninges, it can lead to malfunctioning of the body and causes poor or loss of appetite.


Meningitis is an infection that requires early diagnosis to prevent significant complications. Early diagnosis also helps to reduce the mortality rate. The diagnostic methods are briefed.

Blood cultures

The common diagnostic method for meningitis is a blood culture test. This will help to find whether the infection is present in the blood.  

The blood sample will be collected from the affected patient, and then a drop of blood will be placed on the slide and stained.  

Blood cultures for Meningitis

The stained blood sample will be viewed under a microscope for the presence of the pathogen. The blood culture is particularly used to see the presence of any bacterial infection that causes meningitis.


The imaging technique uses a CT scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which helps to detect inflammation.

Neuroimaging is essential to find if there is any inflammation in the brain cells. The treatment for meningitis depends on the imaging result.

There are specialised imaging techniques like routine contrast-enhanced brain MRI. This is one of the sensitive diagnoses for meningitis. The imaging technique helps to detect the inflammation and complications related to treatment.

Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

A spinal tap or lumbar puncture is a specialised test to diagnose a health condition that affects brain health. The cerebrospinal fluid will be collected with the help of a needle that will be injected into the space between the lumbar bones.

The collected cerebrospinal fluid will be tested for the presence of any infection. If a person is affected with meningitis, there will be an increase in white blood cell count and protein.

The lumbar puncture will also help identify the type of organism affected and the specific treatment for the infection.

Medical history

Medical history plays a significant role in the treatment of meningitis. If a person has a head injury, the possibility of getting infected with meningitis is high.


The treatment will depend on the type of organism that has infected the person. For example, bacterial meningitis might require immediate medical attention, and viral meningitis may go away without any special treatment. However, the treatment depends on an individual’s health condition.

Bacterial meningitis should be treated with a proper antibiotic. The antibiotic should be administered intravenously. Usually, a broad spectrum of antibiotics is preferred for bacterial meningitis.

Antibiotics will not help in case of viral meningitis. The doctor will suggest complete bed rest to recover from viral meningitis.

To cope with pain and fever, over-the-counter medications may help. Corticosteroids may help reduce the pain and swelling in the brain. Corticosteroids may also control seizures.

In some cases, the cause of meningitis might be unknown. So, an antibiotic or antiviral drugs may be prescribed by the doctor.  


When a person is affected with meningitis, there can be certain complications.


Seizures are a major complication of meningitis.

Brain damage

The infection causes inflammation and swelling in the brain cells.

Loss of hearing

People affected with meningitis will have a hearing impairment. After the recovery from meningitis, it is crucial to test for any hearing loss.

Memory problems

Meningitis causes memory problems. People also find difficulty concentrating.

Learning problems

It can be difficult for people to learn any new skill after meningitis.

A hard time walking

Coordination can be a major issue with people affected with meningitis, causing difficulty in walking.

Kidney failure

Kidney problems may be caused due to swelling and inflammation of membranes.

Life-threatening condition

Meningitis can be fatal if left untreated. Bacterial meningitis has significant complications compared to other types. So, medical treatment is required for meningitis.


Wash hands often

Washing your hands often can help sanitise your hands and remove germs. It is essential to wash hands before eating and after using the restrooms. Avoid crowded areas, and wash your hands with soap if you tend to touch anything.

Practice good hygiene

Good hygiene helps to maintain good health. It is recommended to avoid sharing personal items like razors and toothbrushes. This habit will help to prevent the spread of infection.

Stay healthy

Staying healthy with a strong immune system will help to fight infections. People with a weakened immune system have increased chances of getting infected with all kinds of infections.

Cover your mouth

When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with your hands to avoid the spread of infection to others.

If you’re pregnant, be cautious about what you eat

Pregnant women should be careful with the food they eat. Undercooked meat can carry pathogens that can affect both the mother and baby.

Risk factor

Skipping vaccinations

Vaccines play a major role in fighting infection. Do not skip vaccination, and always be watchful about the vaccines.


Age can be a major factor in getting affected with meningitis. People below the of  

20 are at an increased risk of meningitis.

Living in a community setting

People living with shared rooms and restrooms are at an increased risk of meningitis.


Pregnancy increases the risk of infection with listeriosis which can also cause meningitis. The infection can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth.

Compromised immune system

People with a weakened immune system can be at an increased risk of getting infected with any disease.


Meningitis can be a life-threatening infection and requires immediate medical attention. So always be watchful about your symptoms.

Early diagnosis can also prevent significant complications. Diet plays a major role in recovering from the infection. Treatment with proper rest can help a person recover from meningitis.


What is the main cause of meningitis?

Meningitis is commonly caused due bacterial and viral infections. A physical injury can also cause meningitis. Adults with weakened immunity are prone to meningitis. Certain foods like cheese and meat may also contain the bacterium, which can lead to the meningitis infection.

What are the 5 symptoms of meningitis?

The common symptoms of meningitis include,
1. Headache
2. Seizures
3. Difficulty concentrating
4. High fever
5. Stiff neck
6. Sensitive to light and
7. Sleepiness.

Can a person survive meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis can cause significant complications and can be fatal. However, most people recover from the infection. Some cases can be fatal.

What are the first meningitis symptoms?

The first symptom of meningitis will be sudden high fever and stiff neck.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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